THE TOPIC: Savage Communications, Inc., recently received a $1,271,835 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to expand broadband in Carlton County.
BACKGROUND: The funds were awarded by DEED through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which started in 2014, according to the DEED website.
The 2023 grant dollars will help 503 households and businesses in the following townships add fiber internet access: Barnum, Eagle Lake, Lakeview and Moose Lake, DEED said. Savage Communications will be able to offer broadband service up to 1 gigabit per second for downloads and 1 GBPS upload speeds when the more than $2.5 million project is complete.
The grant program requires a 50% local match, so SCI will contribute all but $50,000 of the $1,271,835 not covered by the grant. At its Feb. 27 meeting, the Carlton County Board of Commissioners approved using $50,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to put toward the local match if the project received grant funding.
Funding at the state level was allocated by the Minnesota Legislature. The state contributed $25 million in general revenue funding and $42 million through the American Rescue Plan Act for the 2023 grant cycle, said Bree Maki, executive director of the DEED Office of Broadband Development.
The state's statutory goal is to have homes and businesses statewide able to connect to broadband with download speeds of 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of 20 MBPS or better by 2026, she said.
The download and upload speeds included in the SCI project exceed that standard.
"The broadband speeds that Savage Communications has committed to — 1 GBPS download and 1 GBPS upload — well exceed the 2026 statutory goals. That's always a positive thing to see in our grant applications," Maki said.
In a news release, House District 11A Rep. Jeff Dotseth, R-Kettle River, said there is still more work to be done expanding broadband access, but the grant funding will help fill the gap.
“While most people have come to expect reliable and affordable internet connections to be readily available, parts of our state remain at a disadvantage in that regard, including right here in Carlton County,” Dotseth said. “There are still gaps in coverage in our area that need to be addressed, and this grant will put many residents and businesses in the county on equal footing with other parts of the state and the world.”
This is not the first grant Carlton County projects have received from the program.
DEED records show Cromwell and Kettle River were the target of 2017 project led by Frontier Communications. The state awarded a $569,059 grant; the project's total cost was more than $1.1 million.
In 2019, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa received $602,916 in funding for its Big Lake Road Project, which had a total cost of more than $1.2 million.
Mediacom received a grant totaling $801,834 in 2022 for a project targeting the eastern portion of Scanlon. The project's total cost was over $2.7 million, according to DEED records.
WHAT'S NEXT: Terms of the grant award dictate the project should be complete in two years, Maki said. However, the timeline can be extended if weather causes delays.
"We do know that living in Minnesota, weather is unpredictable — we can’t do projects when ground is frozen, necessarily, and other factors, so we certainly will work with providers to make sure they are able to complete the projects in a timely timeframe, but also having some flexibility and understanding that we don’t have control of everything that allows for active construction," Maki said.
The Legislature appropriated $100 million over the next biennium for the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program. Maki said the office plans to award $50 million in grants this fall and another $50 million in 2024.
The Deep Dive is a monthly feature produced by Cloquet Pine Journal staff. Have an idea for a topic you want us to dive into? Email [email protected].